The Time of Their Lives, film review: Time to bury the camp old vamp persona, Joan

The Time of Their Lives, film review: Time to bury the camp old vamp persona, Joan

Is Joan Collins a national treasure? Yikes. I’ve always filed her under “hams you can’t hate”. But maybe the 83-year-old is due for an upgrade. Her camp British vamp has inspired many brilliant people, not least Joanna Lumley. Fittingly, here, Collins has been allowed to cannibalise two of Lumley’s greatest roles (Marjorie in Shirley Valentine and Patsy in Ab Fab).

Collins is Helen, a dolled-up, alcohol-soaked, foul-mouthed old-timer who wreaks havoc as she attempts to gatecrash a funeral, with the help of hapless, unpretentious housewife Priscilla (Pauline Collins, lovely but typecast).

The script, along with Roger Goldby’s direction, is numbingly inept (imagine Thelma & Louise with the production values of Last of the Summer Wine). Inevitably, there’s a cheeky bit where one of the characters smokes a joint, while two sequences involve an old person driving badly (it’s not funny the first time). At one point, the excellent Joely Richardson delivers a speech about the joys of “plausible” narratives. How did she keep a straight face?

Even in her youth, Joan Collins was a stiff performer. But taking this role was a brave move, and she’s good in the final scenes. Stripped of her wig and (some of) her make-up, reckless, half-repentant Helen resembles an Anna Karenina character. Natural light suits Joanie. Maybe, one day, a big gun (Ridley Scott?), with the help of a sly boots (Jennifer Saunders?), will create a movie around her that feels big and fresh. As this jaded caper keeps reminding us, it’s never too late to try something different.

Cert 12A, 104 mins